A few months ago a friend was telling me about a conference she was going to for work.
“I love conferences,” I told her.
That’s a strange thing for me to say, I thought, because I don’t go to conferences.
I do vaguely remember an experience 15 or so years ago that must have been a conference because the selection of memories I have from it doesn’t seem to add up to anything else – hotel; name tag; listening to someone speak in a fluorescent-lit, windowless room; gathering with co-workers at the bar (which is maybe the reason I think I love conferences; I love alcohol).
I’m 6 years sober so there’s no drinking my way through the Los Angeles BlogHer Conference I’m going to in August.
I guess that makes it sound like I don’t want to go, but the truth is, I do. I want to go. And I want to have gone. I just wish I could skip the in-between – actually being there.
There’s no reasoning with social anxiety
The thing is, I’m scared to death I’m going to feel like I usually do in pretty much any social situation…
Like I don’t belong.
BlogHer emailed us a post with tips on how to get the most out of the conference experience. The one I can’t get out of my head is the one I’m dreading the most: walking up and introducing myself to complete strangers.
I get that friends are always strangers first, but there’s no reasoning with social anxiety.
To be fair, BlogHer does suggest getting to know people ahead of time, and I’ve been doing some of that. I joined the Facebook group and I followed a bunch of BlogHer attendees on Twitter. But I’m someone who often finds it hard to start a conversation with a friend I’ve talked to hundreds of times, much less someone with whom I’ve exchanged a tweet or two.
It’s not that I’ll be unfriendly at the conference. Quite the opposite, in fact. I may even come across as confident and outgoing. But what people see doesn’t always reflect what’s going on inside.
Inside I’ll be cringing, scared to death that every word I speak will betray the truth: that I’m not cool enough, or smart enough, or dedicated enough to be there among so many women more accomplished than me.
Situation / Trigger
Going to the BlogHer Conference in August.
I won’t belong.
I neglect my blog. I learned this from Shark Tank of all places. Time and again I’ve seen the sharks decline to make an offer because the person standing in front of them wasn’t laser-focused on their business (and I do want this to be a business). I hate that I’m one of those people. I have tons of other writing work that gets a good 90 percent of my working hours. I’m not complaining about the work; it pays my bills. But it’s not my baby – this blog is, where it’s a struggle eking out one post a week.
I’m a bad networker. Online, I can do okay. In person, I’m a trainwreck. When I’m not trying too hard, I’m not trying hard enough. When I’m not fidgeting my way through awkward silences, I’m asking too many questions. It’s painful, and embarrassing, and I’d really just rather be home (watching Shark Tank).
I’m volunteering at the conference. I belong by default, which is kind of the reason I volunteered in the first place. I’m working the registration desk, checking people in and answering questions. I have to talk to people. Honestly, if not for this volunteer opportunity to break the ice, I don’t know that I would be able to make myself go at all.
I want to learn. About podcasting, and Periscope, and turning a blog into a book. About Pinterest ads, “hyper-local tactics,” and building my email list. BlogHer has sessions on all of that (and lots more).
Now and then, I’m actually comfortable in a social situation. I played Juliet in college. I wasn’t great. But there was this one night when a few members of the cast came up to me after the show to tell me how good I was in that performance (something none of them had ever done before). It felt good, but it also felt bad; I had no idea what I’d done any differently, so I had no idea how to do it again.
That’s kind of how I feel about the once-in-a-blue-moon social situation in which I feel comfortable. I don’t know what I do any differently, so I don’t know how to replicate it. But now and then it does happen, meaning there’s a chance it could happen at the BlogHer Conference in August. Fingers crossed, it does.
It’s called the BlogHer Conference. As a woman and a blogger, I belong, damn it!
Alternative Thought / Positive Affirmation
I don’t know how I’m going to feel at the BlogHer Conference. All I know is that I’m going to learn something and, as a volunteer, help other women while I’m there.
What’s Worrying You?
Keep your own worry journal and work it through. I picked up this tool in cognitive behavioral therapy. Inevitably, my anxiety level at the end of the exercise is less than it was when I started. I hope it works that way for you, too.